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The Latest | Palestinians flee Rafah as Netanyahu vows to widen Gaza assault despite US warnings

May 9, 2024, 12:50 AM | Updated: 3:32 pm

Tens of thousands of displaced and exhausted Palestinians have packed up their tents and other belongings and fled the southern city of Rafah for other parts of Gaza, according to the United Nations.

Israel has repeatedly threatened to invade Rafah, saying it’s the last stronghold of Hamas militants. Some 1.3 million Palestinians — over half Gaza’s population — had sought refuge in the city.

“Where are we supposed to go? Where is the world, that’s just watching us?” said Ahmad Abed, who has an 8-month-old daughter. “It’s like we’re sheep.”

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Thursday that a U.S. threat to withhold some weapons would not deter Israel from expanding its offensive in Gaza. A limited Israeli operation earlier this week captured the Gaza side of Rafah’s border crossing with Egypt, throwing humanitarian operations into crisis.

The death toll from the war in Gaza has soared to more than 34,500 people, according to local health officials, and caused vast destruction to apartments, hospitals, mosques and schools across several cities. The U.N. says northern Gaza is already in a state of “full-blown famine.”

The war began Oct. 7 when Hamas attacked southern Israel, killing around 1,200 people, mostly civilians, and abducting about 250 others. Israel says militants still hold around 100 hostages and the remains of more than 30 others.

Currently:

— What are the latest obstacles to bringing aid into Gaza, where hunger is worsening?

— Biden says U.S. won’t supply weapons for Israel to attack Rafah, in warning to ally.

— Israel says it reopened a key Gaza crossing after a rocket attack. The U.N. says no aid has entered.

— Has Israel followed the law in its war in Gaza? The U.S. is due to render a first-of-its-kind verdict.

— Police break up another protest by pro-Palestinian activists at the University of Amsterdam.

Follow AP’s coverage of the war at https://apnews.com/hub/israel-hamas-war

Here’s the latest:

U.N. SAYS MORE THAN 80,000 PEOPLE HAVE FLED RAFAH AS ISRAELI FORCES POUND THE CITY

UNITED NATIONS — Some 80,000 Palestinians have fled Israeli shelling and airstrikes in Gaza’s southern city of Rafah by Wednesday night, the United Nations says. The exodus is increasing by the hour and could be close to 100,000 by Thursday evening.

Some 1.3 million Palestinians — over half Gaza’s population — had sought refuge in Rafah.

There’s no safe place in the Gaza Strip, said U.N. deputy spokesman Farhan Haq. Speaking to reporters Thursday, he said frightened civilians are heading north to cities like Khan Younis and Deir al-Balah — both of which lack food, shelter and health care.

The U.N. World Food Program reports its main food warehouse for Gaza, which is in Rafah, is now inaccessible, Haq said, with only one bakery in the city still working: “Supplies of food and fuel are running out.”

The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees, known as UNRWA, reported that its facilities have almost no fuel Thursday and were rationing what is left, Haq said. If no fuel arrives, some hospitals could shut off their generators in three days, he said.

The U.N. spokesman said no aid or fuel has entered Gaza in recent days from Rafah, after Israeli forces took control of the border crossing this week. Israel said it has reopened the Kerem Shalom crossing, and Haq said the U.N. thinks some aid is entering Gaza.

However, he said, both Israel and Hamas are required under international humanitarian law to ensure that aid can be delivered to people in need. Currently this is almost impossible because of the security situation, Haq said.

“We continue to engage with all involved on the resumption of the entry of goods, including fuel,” he said.

As a result of Israeli military activity in Rafah, the medical aid group Project HOPE said it closed its clinics and mobile medical points in Rafah on Thursday.

“Life in Rafah right now is a nightmare,” Project HOPE’s team leader in Gaza, Moses Kondowe, said in a statement. “There is bombing and shelling constantly, nearly every 10 minutes. Thousands of people are stuck here with nowhere to go. … The situation is unbearable.”

PATIENTS FORCED FROM A HOSPITAL IN RAFAH FIND SHELTER IN NEARBY MEDICAL CENTER, BUT DOCTORS SAY RESOURCES ARE LIMITED

KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip — Kidney dialysis patients who were evacuated from one of Rafah’s main hospitals have moved to the Nasser hospital in nearby Khan Younis.

Fighting in Rafah forced the exodus of patients Wednesday from Abu Youssef al-Najjar hospital. That facility was the last one in Gaza for dialysis and one of the main hospitals receiving wounded from Israeli airstrikes on Rafah in recent weeks.

Patients like Ibrahim Abu Hashem are relieved.

“We were very worried the day the Israelis entered, took control of the hospital, and we had to evacuate,” he said in an interview while undergoing dialysis. “But thank God, Nasser hospital prepared and set things up, and that eased our emotional well-being.”

However, Nasser hospital is in bad shape after Israeli forces raided the medical center in recent months hundreds of bodies were found buried outside the hospital.

Dr. Atef al-Hout, the hospital’s director says the dialysis unit was “completely burned down” during the raid and fighting, and a new one had to be set up quickly by repairing damaged and older machines. He said there’s currently 25 machines for some 600 patients.

“Is this enough? Absolutely not,” he said in his office. “Certainly, for 600 patients we would need at least 45 dialysis machines. But the conditions don’t allow us to have more.”

‘WHERE ARE WE SUPPOSED TO GO?’ PALESTINIANS FLEE RAFAH FOR OTHER PARTS OF GAZA AHEAD OF PROMISED ISRAELI OFFENSIVE

DEIR AL-BALAH, Gaza Strip — On foot, in vehicles or riding donkey carts loaded with belongings, a stream of displaced Palestinians fled Rafah in southern Gaza on Thursday for the relative safety of the territory’s center, as Israel threatens to expand its ground offensive in the south.

It’s an all-too-familiar scene for Palestinians who had sought safter in Rafah after escaping fighting elsewhere in Gaza. Families set up tent camps on the shores of the Mediterranean Sea near the central city of Deir al-Balah. Upon arrival, dozens rushed to collect water near a building for UNRWA, the U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees. More wait in the heat.

“The situation is difficult and continues to worsen,” Wafaa Masarei said as she rested beside her children and their few belongings: boxes, bags of clothes, pots, mattresses, a plastic jug. Her two kids sought protection from the sun under a table and blankets.

Ahmad Abed, who has an 8-month-old daughter, says he’s fed up from constantly moving drags on. He feels there’s no safe place for his family, even in the schools being used as makeshift shelters.

“Where are we supposed to go? Where is the world, that is just watching us?” he said. “It’s like we’re sheep.”

UNRWA WILL CLOSE ITS JERUSALEM OFFICE AFTER ISRAELI PROTESTERS SET FIRE TO PERIMITER TWICE

JERUSALEM — The U.N. agency for Palestinian refugees is closing its Jerusalem compound after Israeli protesters twice set fire to its perimeter.

Philipe Lazzarini, the commissioner-general of UNRWA, said no one was injured but that staff had to put the fires out themselves because firefighters and police were slow to arrive.

He shared video of Thursday’s protest, in which the crowd can be heard chanting “Burn the U.N.” in Hebrew. In a post on the platform X, Lazzarini called it an “outrageous development,” saying “once again, the lives of UN staff were at a serious risk.”

He said that in light of the “appalling incident” he had taken the decision to shut down the compound.

On Tuesday, protesters damaged the gate of the compound, prompting the U.N. to lodge a protest with Israeli authorities.

Israel has accused UNRWA, which is the largest provider of humanitarian aid to Gaza, of having links to Hamas and other Palestinian militants, some of whom allegedly took part in the Oct. 7 attack that triggered the war in Gaza.

UNRWA denies any links to such groups. It immediately fired the employees when it was informed about the allegations pertaining to Oct. 7 and launched an internal investigation.

An independent review last month found that UNRWA had submitted full lists of its thousands of staffers to Israel every year since 2011, without Israel expressing concern about any of them.

The review said the agency has “robust” procedures to uphold the U.N. principle of neutrality but cited gaps in implementation.

NETANYAHU VOWS TO ‘FIGHT WITH OUR FINGERNAILS’ AS U.S. SAYS IT WON’T SEND WEAPONS FOR RAFAH ASSAULT

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu minister said Thursday that his country will “stand alone” if it has to in its war against Hamas after President Joe Biden said the U.S. would not provide offensive weapons for Israel’s long-promised assault on the southern Gaza city of Rafah.

“If we need to, we will fight with our fingernails,” he said. “But we have much more than fingernails.”

Netanyahu’s comments come amid a deepening crisis in relations with the United States.

Israel says that Rafah is Hamas’ last stronghold in Gaza, and Netanyahu has repeatedly vowed to invade the city despite widespread international opposition due to concerns over the more than 1 million Palestinian civilians huddled in the city.

Biden’s comments about providing weapons were the latest sign of steadily deteriorating relations between Israel and its closest and most important ally after seven months of Israel’s war against Hamas.

ISRAELI ACTIVISTS OPPOSED TO HUMANITARIAN AID FOR GAZA BLOCK MAJOR HIGHWAY

TEL AVIV, Israel — Israeli activists opposed to sending humanitarian aid to Gaza have blocked a major highway in southern Israel, snarling traffic and leading to at least a dozen arrests, according to a protest group leading the efforts.

Over the past week, activists with the Tzav 9 organization have blocked trucks that arrived from Jordan bound for Gaza.

“These trucks are taking food to Hamas, and Hamas are murderers, rapists and terrible, terrible people,” said Ruben Frankenburg, as he placed himself in front of a truck bound for Gaza near the Kerem Shalom crossing in southern Israel. He added that Israel was being “forced by the Americans to give them this food.”

Another protester claimed the humanitarian aid was allowing Hamas to continue to fight. “There’s no other place in the world that one side gives the supplies to the other side, it’s crazy, it’s nuts,” said protester Yonatan Godalis, as he stood blocking an 18-wheeler and holding an Israeli flag.

The protests have caused traffic jams across the country, including shutting down parts of the country’s main highways. On Thursday, activists also blocked the road near the town of Mitzpe Ramon, halting traffic up Israel’s iconic desert highway and a main artery toward the south and the Gaza Strip. The protests have caused delays and headaches for drivers but no aid has been halted from reaching the crossings, according to COGAT, the Israeli military branch responsible for handling the humanitarian aid.

ISRAEL RAIDS NAZARETH OFFICES OF AL JAZEERA

TEL AVIV — Israel raided the Nazareth offices of the Qatar-based Al Jazeera satellite news network, days after the government shuttered the network’s offices in Israel.

On Thursday, the Ministry of Communications said forces confiscated equipment from the office in northern Israel that had been used to transmit live broadcasts of Al Jazeera on Wednesday.

“Israel won’t let Hamas broadcast from here,” Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi wrote on X.

Al Jazeera’s headquarters in Doha, Qatar, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Israel ordered the local offices of Al Jazeera to close Sunday, escalating a long-running feud between the broadcaster and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s hard-line government as Doha-mediated cease-fire negotiations with Hamas hang in the balance.

Since the order, the broadcaster has moved many of its English-language service correspondents operating in Israel to Amman, Jordan. Others still operate from the Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

The extraordinary order, which includes confiscating broadcast equipment, preventing the broadcast of the channel’s reports and blocking its websites, is believed to be the first time Israel has ever shuttered a foreign news outlet operating in the country.

FIRST SHIPMENT OF AID TO THE U.S.-BUILT FLOATING PIER IN GAZA LEAVES CYPRUS

NICOSIA, Cyprus — A shipment of humanitarian aid has left a port in Cyprus and is on its way to a U.S-built pier in Gaza, the first delivery to the newly built ramp, Cyprus’ foreign minister said Thursday.

The U.S. vessel, loaded with much-needed humanitarian assistance, departed from the Larnaca port with the aim of transferring as much aid to Gaza as possible through the maritime corridor, said Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos.

The trip comes about two months after U.S. President Joe Biden gave the order to build the large floating platform several miles (kilometers) off the Gaza coast that will be the launching pad for deliveries.

ISRAELI DRONE STRIKE ON CAR IN LEBANON KILLS 4, GROUP SAYS

BEIRUT — Lebanon’s Civil Defense paramedic group says an Israeli drone strike on a car in a Lebanese village near the border with Israel killed four people.

Hezbollah announced hours later that three of its fighters were killed Thursday adding that in retaliation for their death in the strike in the village of Bafliyeh it attacked Israeli military posts in Kfar Giladi, northern Israel, with explosive drones.

Hezbollah claimed in a statement that it struck an operations room and inflicted casualties among the troops.

Hezbollah started attacking Israeli army posts along the Lebanon-Israel border a day after the Israel-Hamas war broke out on Oct. 7.

Since then, more than 350 people have been killed in Lebanon, including 275 Hezbollah members and more than 70 civilians and non-combatants. In Israel, 15 soldiers and 10 civilians have been killed.

Foreign officials have been visiting Lebanon over the past month in attempts to bring calm to the border, but Hezbollah has repeatedly said it will not stop fighting until there is a cease-fire in the Gaza Strip.

ISRAEL’S NATIONAL SECURITY MINISTER IMPLIES THAT HAMAS LOVES BIDEN

TEL AVIV — Far-right Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir implied in a post on the social platform X that Hamas loves Biden, using a heart emoji a day after U.S. President Joe Biden said he would not supply offensive weapons that Israel could use to launch an all-out assault on Rafah.

Biden, in an interview with CNN on Wednesday, said the U.S. was still committed to Israel’s defense and would supply Iron Dome rocket interceptors and other defensive arms, but that if Israel goes into Rafah, “we’re not going to supply the weapons and artillery shells used.” There is widespread concern over the well-being of the more than 1 million civilians sheltering in Rafah.

Ben Gvir, who used a heart emoji in his tweet regarding Biden and Hamas, has pushed for a punishing military response and has threatened to leave the government if Israel does not carry out a wide-ranging military operation in Rafah. “Hamas’ exercises and games have only one answer: an immediate order to occupy Rafah!” he wrote on X on Monday.

ISRAELI AIRSTRIKE KILLS 8 PEOPLE, INCLUDING 4 CHILDREN

CAIRO — An Israeli airstrike on a residential building killed eight people including four children late Wednesday, according to hospital records. The strike hit a residential building in Tel al-Sultan in western Rafah.

Israel’s military took control of the Palestinian side of the Rafah crossing early Tuesday after issuing evacuation orders for eastern parts of the city, home to some 100,000. It then sent tanks to seize the nearby Rafah crossing with Egypt, shutting it down.

Associated Press journalists heard sporadic explosions and gunfire in the area of the Rafah crossing overnight Tuesday, including two large blasts early Wednesday.

On Wednesday afternoon, hospital records showed at least 25 people were wounded when Israeli artillery fire struck part of central Rafah, an area that Israel did not tell Palestinians to evacuate ahead of its operation. The military had no immediate comment.

ISRAELI SOLDIER KILLED BY MORTAR LAUNCHED FROM LEBANON AS TENSIONS RISE

TEL AVIV — An Israeli soldier was killed by a mortar launched from Lebanon, as tensions between Israel and Lebanon continue to rise during the war in Gaza. The soldier was killed on Wednesday and the army announced the death on Thursday. It was the third fatality in a week in Israel on the northern border from launches from Lebanon.

The Israeli army said fighter jets struck Hezbollah military structures in southern Lebanon on Wednesday in response. Defense Minister Yoav Gallant also toured Israel’s northern border on Wednesday and warned that a war with Hezbollah would have “a heavy cost for Israel and a catastrophic one for Hezbollah and Lebanon.”

He added that while Israel was open to a diplomatic solution on the northern border, the army was also preparing for a possible military operation to allow citizens to return to their homes. Tens of thousands of civilians have been evacuated from Israel and southern Lebanon since the war began.

A total of 15 soldiers and 10 civilians have been killed in Israel by Lebanese launches. In Lebanon, more than 370 people have been killed by Israeli strikes, including more than 70 civilians and non-combatants.

ISRAELI STRIKE HITS BUILDING IN DAMASCUS SUBURB, SYRIAN MEDIA SAY

DAMASCUS, Syria — Syrian state media say an Israeli strike on a building in a suburb of the capital Damascus caused damage but no casualties.

Iraq’s al-Nujaba Movement, which is backed by Iran, said one of its cultural centers in the Damascus area was struck and vowed a “forceful and effective” retaliation. Al-Nujaba is one of many Iran-backed groups that sent fighters to Syria over the past years to help President Bashar Assad’s forces during the country’s 13-year conflict.

State news agency SANA cited a military official as saying that Syrian air defenses shot down some of the Israeli missiles before they reached their targets early Thursday.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, an opposition war monitor, said the strike targeted Iran-backed fighters in the southern Damascus suburb of Sayida Zeinab. It did not report any casualties.

There was no comment from Israel’s military on the strike. Israel rarely acknowledges such strikes, although it has carried out hundreds over the past years, mainly targeting Iran-backed fighters such as Lebanon’s Hezbollah group.

The strike was the second on Syria since an April 1 attack blamed on Israel blew up the Iranian Consulate in Damascus, killing seven people, including two Iranian generals.

Iran responded days later by launching hundreds of missiles and drones at Israel. Most were shot down, Israel said.

YEMEN’S HOUTHI REBELS CLAIM 2 ATTACKS IN GULF OF ADEN

Yemen’s Houthi rebels on Thursday claimed two missile attacks in the Gulf of Aden on two Panama-flagged container ships that caused no damage, while also saying they targeted a ship in the Indian Ocean in a previously unreported assault.

The claims by Brig. Gen. Yahya Saree come as the tempo of the rebel attacks have waned in recent weeks as they’ve been targeted by repeated airstrikes launched by a U.S.-led coalition warship in waterways crucial to international trade. The Houthis insist their assaults will continue as long as Israel’s war on Hamas in the Gaza Strip goes on.

Saree in a prerecorded statement claimed attacks on the MSC Diego and MSC Gina. The Joint Maritime Information Center, a U.S.-led coalition of nations operating in the Mideast, said those two missile attacks happened early Tuesday.

BIDEN SAYS U.S. WON’T SUPPLY WEAPONS FOR ISRAEL TO ATTACK RAFAH

President Joe Biden said Wednesday that he would not supply offensive weapons that Israel could use to launch an all-out assault on Rafah — the last major Hamas stronghold in Gaza — over concern for the well-being of the more than 1 million civilians sheltering there.

Biden, in an interview with CNN, said the U.S. was still committed to Israel’s defense and would supply Iron Dome rocket interceptors and other defensive arms, but that if Israel goes into Rafah, “we’re not going to supply the weapons and artillery shells used, that have been used.”

The interview marked Biden’s toughest public comments yet about the potential Israeli military operation and followed his decision to pause a shipment of heavy bombs to Israel last week over concerns that the U.S. ally was moving closer to an attack on Rafah despite public and private warnings from his administration.

U.N. IS NEGOTIATING WITH ISRAEL AND EGYPT TO RESUME FUEL SHIPMENTS INTO GAZA

UNITED NATIONS — The United Nations is engaged in intensive discussions with Israeli and Egyptian authorities to restart fuel shipments to Gaza as soon as possible in order keep providing humanitarian operations.

U.N. humanitarian staff in Gaza are rationing fuel to stretch what’s available for as long as possible, “but it is clear that it is a matter of hours, if not days, where we will have no more fuel,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric told reporters Wednesday

Between May 1 and May 5, a daily average of 48 trucks carrying more than 160,000 liters of fuel entered Gaza through the now-closed Rafah crossing with Egypt, Dujarric said.

The U.N. spokesman confirmed that nothing has entered Gaza from the Kerem Shalom crossing, which Israel said it reopened Wednesday, because fighting is still ongoing. With rockets falling and other military activities, there is an issue of safety of humanitarian personnel, he said.

A THIRD MASS GRAVE IS FOUND AT SHIFA HOSPITAL, GAZA’S HEALTH MINISTRY SAYS

JERUSALEM — Dozens of bodies were buried in a mass grave on the grounds of Shifa hospital in northern Gaza, where Israeli forces staged two major operations during the war, the Health Ministry in Gaza said Wednesday.

It is unclear who was buried in the grave or how they died. The Health Ministry says it was the third mass grave found at Shifa since the war began. A two-week Israeli raid in March left Gaza’s largest medical complex in ruins.

Mass graves have also been uncovered at other hospitals Israel raided. In some cases hospital officials said they had been dug purposely to bury the dead until it was safe to move the bodies to a final resting place.

Israel says it has nothing to do with the mass graves, claiming the people buried there either died in battle or were patients who died in the hospital. The United Nations has called for “a clear, transparent and credible investigation” of the mass graves.

CIA DIRECTOR IN ISRAEL AS MEDIATORS PUSH FOR A CEASE-FIRE

WASHINGTON — A U.S. official says that CIA Director William Burns is in Israel as international mediators push for a cease-fire.

The official said Burns arrived on Wednesday and was meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss closed-door negotiations.

The official gave no details on the discussions. But Burns has been in the region meeting with Egyptian and Qatari officials in recent days. He had been scheduled to travel to Israel from Qatar earlier this week, but that meeting was postponed without explanation.

All three countries have been involved in months of talks aimed at halting the seven-month war between Israel and Hamas.

Hamas announced on Sunday that it had accepted an Egyptian-Qatari cease-fire plan. But Israel says the proposal does not meet its “core” demands.

— By ELLEN KNICKMEYER

National News

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The Latest | Palestinians flee Rafah as Netanyahu vows to widen Gaza assault despite US warnings